Building Bridges

Issue # 8 of 43 

David LeClaire
By: David LeClaire

Strengthening Your Emotional Bank Account

Imagine the concept of an emotional bank account in your relationship. Of course it doesn't actually exist in any physical sense, but it helps to understand why some issues that appear to be small become so large.

Brandon has $12 in his bank account, and writes a $25 cheque. Not only would his cheque bounce, but his bank would penalize him just short of asking for his first born child. His little $25 cheque creates a penalty of approximately $20 simply because there were not enough deposits to cover it.

Negative comments, comming home late, or not asking for your partner's input regarding an important decision may seem like small things but can certainly disintegrate the peace and start a battle when the emotional bank account between a couple is low. Little mistakes and other relatively minor bumps in the road to harmony for couples can be overcome much more easily when the account is full. The account is full when both partners feel connected, supported, loved, and appreciated.

Deposits are made when sweet things are done for each other. When we forgive someone easily and quickly. When we compromised or gave up what we wanted so our partner could have something they wanted. Deposits are made when we share intimacy and sincere affection and appreciation.

When the account is low, chances are very few deposits have been made. There is a tension in the relationship, similar to when you're broke and not sure where any new money might come from. Little things become big things and our patience grows thin.

Criticism, blame, or displays of disrespect are common withdrawals. When we fail to show acceptance, or consideration, or when we disregard our partner's needs and interests, we make withdrawals. When he fails to call, when she points out his weaknesses, when he makes fun of her in public, withdrawals are made.

When couples fight often, their emotional accounts are typically low. Little things set them off. By putting effort into making more deposits and strengthening the account, couples have more patience, become more willing to compromise, and forgive each other more easily. If, as a couple, you are experiencing conflict on a regular basis and seemingly little problems are constantly becoming big problems, it is time to look at the ratio of deposits to withdrawals.

This is not about keeping a ledger. The objective is not to destroy the spontaneity and friendliness of your actions. Don't try to keep a balance sheet. Just strive to make more and more daily deposits. Avoid making excuses or rationalizing inconsiderate or hostile actions by telling yourself you can afford a few withdrawals. Acknowledge withdrawals as such when you make one, and genuinely apologize.

Remember, it is irrelevant if you think the account is strong if your partner doesn't feel the same way.

There's no master account because each of us have our own perception. And there's no real way of reaching a safe balance. You don't become a billionaire to where your relationship can withstand any withdrawal. Things like adultery or abuse can wipe out years of savings and leave your emotional account bankrupt.

  • Have you been helpful lately?
  • Patient?
  • Understanding?
  • Appreciative?
If so, you're making deposits, and keep up the good work!
  • Have you been lazy?
  • short-tempered?
  • sarcastic?
  • or critical lately?
If so, it's time to stop bleeding the account and begin making more deposits. Thank each other for the deposits. Acknowledge when you or your partner has made a withdrawal.

Keep no notes, hold no mental list. Just commit to making more and more deposits and creating a strong emotional connection between you. Share why you love each other and regularly acknowledge the contribution your partner is to your life. Make it fun if you can. Do it to be silly, to be a friend, or to be a caring partner.

Remember, underneath most conflict between couples there is someone who isn't feeling loved enough, respected, appreciated, understood, or listened to. You have the ability to avoid arguing about specifics and approach the real problem. The conflicts that arise from a low account means there are significant deficiencies in one or more of these areas, and by talking with your partner, you will know specifically where your efforts need to be directed.

David LeClaire has spent much of his time teaching at community college and private school, and lead communications training for Fortune 500 companies. Now a popular and active Seattle area sommelier, this graduate of Central Michigan University led seminars for a wide variety of organizations. LeClaire is the author of "Bridges To A Passionate Partnership." He can be reached at

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Text © 1998, David LeClaire. Part of the original Sideroad.
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